Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
by
White, a white supremacist, is now in federal prison. His Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552, requests concern a conspiracy theory: that the racist movement he joined is really an elaborate government sting operation. Dissatisfied with the pace at which the FBI and Marshals Service released responsive records and their alleged failure to reveal other records, White filed suit.The court granted the agencies summary judgment and denied White’s subsequent motion seeking costs because the Marshals Service alone was delinquent in responding; the 1,500 pages held by that agency were an insubstantial piece of the litigation compared to 100,000 pages of FBI documents. The court stated that “the transparent purpose of White’s FOIA requests and lawsuit was to harass the government, not to obtain information useful to the public.” White then filed an unsuccessful motion to reconsider, arguing that the court should not render a final decision until the FBI had redacted, copied, and sent all the responsive records, which will take more than a decade. White next moved to hold the Marshals Service in contempt for telling the court in 2018 that it would soon start sending him records; by 2020 White had received nothing. The court admonished the agency but determined that no judicial order had been violated. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district judge “carefully parsed White’s numerous and wide-ranging arguments and explained the result." View "White v. United States Department of Justice" on Justia Law

by
Bilek received unauthorized robocalls concerning health insurance that allegedly violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the Illinois Automatic Telephone Dialing Act (47 U.S.C. 227; 815 ILCS 305/30(a)(b)). Bilek sued on a vicarious liability theory, claiming that Federal contracted with Innovations to sell its insurance; Innovations hired lead generators to effectuate telemarketing; and the lead generators made the unauthorized robocalls that form the basis of Bilek’s claims. Bilek cited three agency theories: actual authority, apparent authority, and ratification.The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of Bilek’s complaint. Expressing no view on whether Bilek will ultimately succeed in proving an agency relationship between the lead generators and either Federal or Innovations, the court concluded that Bilek alleged enough at the pleading stage for his complaint to move forward. Bilek alleges more than a barebones contractual relationship, and did enough to plead that the lead generators acted with Federal’s actual authority. Bilek alleged that Federal authorized the lead generators, through Innovations, to use its approved scripts, tradename, and proprietary information to solicit and advertise its insurance; Bilek received a robocall, and after pressing 1, he spoke to a lead generator who used this proprietary information to quote Federal’s insurance. View "Bilek v. Federal Insurance Co." on Justia Law

by
Mesa sent faxes promoting its services. Some recipients had not consented to receive such faxes, and the faxed materials did not include an opt‐out notice as required by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(C). Orrington filed a class‐action lawsuit under the TCPA and the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act and alleged that Mesa’s conduct constituted common‐law conversion, nuisance, and trespass to chattels for Mesa’s appropriation of the recipients’ fax equipment, paper, ink, and toner. Mesa notified its insurer, Federal, of the Orrington action. Federal declined to provide a defense. After Mesa and Orrington reached a settlement, Mesa sued Federal, alleging breach of contract, bad faith, and improper delay and denial of claims under Colorado statutes.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Federal. The policy’s “Information Laws Exclusion” provides that the policy “does not apply to any damages, loss, cost or expense arising out of any actual or alleged or threatened violation of “ TCPA “or any similar regulatory or statutory law in any other jurisdiction.” The exclusion barred all of the claims because the common-law claims arose out of the same conduct underlying the statutory claims. View "Mesa Laboratories, Inc. v. Federal Insurance Co." on Justia Law

by
MacIver, a “think tank that promotes free markets, individual freedom, personal responsibility, and limited government,” sponsors a “separately branded” MacIver News Service. Some of Wisconsin Governor Evers's press events are open to the public, and others are limited to subsets of the media of varying size. The Governor’s Office maintains a media advisory list to notify members of the media of events. The original list was based on newspaper circulation, radio listenership, and TV viewership.MacIver reporters learned of an invitation-only press and, although not invited, sent an RSVP. They were not admitted. Hundreds of other media personnel were also not invited to the small event. MacIver requested the criteria used to determine which journalists would be allowed access. The Governor’s Office distributed guidance for determining how media would be granted access to limited-access events, noting that the “most important consideration is that access is based on neutral criteria.” The factors were adapted from standards used by the Wisconsin Capital Correspondents Board and the U.S. Congress. According to the Governor, MacIver is not included on the list because MacIver Institute “is not principally a news organization” and “their practices run afoul of the neutral factors.”MacIver sued, citing the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Governor Evers. The press conferences were non-public fora and the criteria that the Governor used to accept or exclude media were reasonable. There is no evidence of viewpoint discrimination under any First Amendment test. View "John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy, Inc. v. Evers" on Justia Law

by
Next makes office equipment and refers potential customers to reviews that rate its products highly. Next's competitor, Beyond, published reviews critiquing Next’s standing desks. Instead of pursuing a claim under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125, Next sued in federal court under diversity jurisdiction, relying on Wisconsin’s common law of defamation. The district judge treated product reviews and political commentary as equivalent and cited the Constitution, holding that because Next is a “limited-purpose public figure”—made so by its own efforts to sell its wares—all criticism by a competitor is constitutionally protected unless the statements are knowingly false or made with reckless indifference to their truth. The court concluded that the standard was not met. The Seventh Circuit affirmed on other grounds, stating that it was “skeptical” about the trial court’s use of the Constitution. On the district court’s approach, few claims under the Lanham Act ever could succeed, and commercial advertising would be treated just like political campaigning. Next failed to state a claim under Wisconsin law. “Whatever one can say about whether both gray paint and polished metal should be called ‘silver,’ or whether two circuit boards are as good as one, these are not ‘false assertions of specific unfavorable facts.’” View "Next Technologies, Inc. v. Beyond the Office Door LLC" on Justia Law

by
Madigan was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1970 and re-elected to 25 additional two-year terms. He became Speaker of the House in 1983 and the state’s Democratic Party Chairman in 1998. In 2021 he withdrew from the race to be reelected as Speaker and resigned his seat in the House and his role as Chairman. Four candidates were on the ballot for the 2016 Democratic primary. Madigan won with 65% of the votes; Gonzales received 27%, Rodriguez 6%, and Barboza 2%. Gonzales sued, 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that Rodriguez and Barboza were stooges put on the ballot by Madigan’s allies to divide the Hispanic vote, violating the Equal Protection Clause.The district judge noted that Gonzales had made his suspicions public early in the race and that an editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times agreed with Gonzales. Concluding that the voters were not deceived, the court granted summary judgment against Gonzales. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district judge did not penalize Gonzales’s campaign speech. Speech, including in depositions and interrogatories, often affects litigation's outcome; a judge who takes account of speech that proves or refutes a claim does not violate the First Amendment. Gonzales told the voters that he thought Madigan had played a dirty trick. The electorate sided with Madigan. The Constitution does not authorize the judiciary to upset that outcome or to penalize a politician for employing a shady strategy that voters tolerate. View "Gonzales v. Madigan" on Justia Law

by
Speech First challenged University of Illinois policies that allegedly impermissibly chill the speech of its student members. The Bias Assessment and Response Team (BART) responds to reports of bias-motivated incidents. Most students contacted by BART either do not respond or decline to meet; they suffer no consequences. If a student agrees to meet, BART staff explains that the student's conduct drew attention and gives the student an opportunity to reflect upon her behavior. BART’s reports are not referred to the University Police. The University Housing Bias Incident Protocol addresses bias-motivated incidents committed within University housing. There are no sanctions or discipline associated with a reported incident. When a student breaches his housing contract or violates University policy, there is a separate disciplinary process. Expression of the views described in the complaint would not contravene housing contracts nor violate any University policies. Individuals subject to student discipline may be subject to “No Contact Directives” (NCDs) and prohibited from communication with identified parties. NCDs do not constitute disciplinary findings and are not part of the students’ official disciplinary records. An NCD does not prohibit the student from talking or writing about the other. The University has not investigated or punished any members of Speech First under any of the challenged policies.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction. Speech First failed to demonstrate that its members face a credible fear that they will face discipline on the basis of their speech as a result of the policies. View "Speech First, Inc. v. Killeen" on Justia Law

by
In 2016, the Seventh Circuit held that Chicago is entitled to limit sales on the streets adjacent to Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, but remanded a magazine seller’s contention that an ordinance requiring all peddlers to be licensed was invalid because of an exception for newspapers. Before the judge acted on remand, Chicago amended its ordinance to provide: It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in the business of a peddler without first having obtained a street peddler license under this chapter. Provided, however, a street peddler license is not required for selling, … only newspapers, periodicals, pamphlets, or other similar written materials on the public way. There is no distinction between newspapers and magazines. Left Field Media withdrew its request for an injunction but sought damages to compensate for injury before the amendment.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit for want of a justiciable controversy. Left Field did not show any injury. It did not assert other costs, such as overtime wages or legal fees incurred to attempt to get a license. Because Left Field has not offered details, it would not be possible to conclude that it suffered even a dollar in marginal costs. View "Left Field Media LLC v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

by
In 2019, Anheuser-Busch began to advertise that its beer, Bud Light, is made using rice, while Miller Lite and Coors Light use corn syrup as a source of sugar that yeast ferments into alcohol. Molson Coors responded by advertising that its beers taste be]er because of the difference between rice and corn syrup. In a lawsuit, Molson contended that Anheuser-Busch violated section 43 of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125, by implying that a product made from corn syrup also contains corn syrup. After a remand, the district court issued an injunction.The Seventh Circuit affirmed to the extent that the order denied Molson’s request for an injunction and reversed to the extent that the Bud Light advertising or packaging was enjoined. To the extent that the injunction prevents Anheuser-Busch from stating that Miller Lite or Coors Light “contain” corn syrup, it was vacated; Anheuser-Busch has never stated this nor said that it wants to do so but only made the true statement that “their beer is made using corn syrup and ours isn’t.” View "Molson Coors Beverage Co. v. Anheuser-Busch Companies, LLC" on Justia Law

by
An Illinois municipality may join the Municipal League, an unincorporated, nonprofit, nonpolitical association, and may pay annual membership dues and fees; member municipalities may act through the League to provide and disseminate information and research services and do other acts for improving local government, 65 ILCS 5/1-8-1. Lincolnshire is one of more than a thousand dues-paying League members and uses tax revenue to pay the dues from the Village’s General Fund. From 2013-2018, Lincolnshire paid at least $5,051 in voluntary dues and fees to the League. Individual residents and the Unions sued, claiming First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause violations. They claimed that Lincolnshire compelled them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern because the League sent emails promoting a particular political agenda, including the adoption of “right to work” zones.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Lincolnshire itself has the right to speak for itself and a right to associate; it voluntarily joined the League as it is authorized to do. Local governments must be allowed to discuss, either directly or through a surrogate, ideas related to municipal government, regardless of where those ideas originated. View "O'Brien v. Village of Lincolnshire" on Justia Law